8th US Colored Heavy Artillery
The 8th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery (USCHA) was the first African American artillery unit to be recruited in Kentucky. First called the 1st Regiment Kentucky Heavy Artillery, African Descent, the unit was later designated as the 7th U.S. Colored Field Artillery before becoming the 8th USCHA. Most of the men came from Paducah and the surrounding counties, and the unit mainly performed garrison duty in and around Paducah, a strategic location where the Tennessee and Ohio Rivers converge. While helping garrison Fort Anderson in Paducah, the 8th USCHA saw combat in March 1864, when they fought Confederate cavalry led by General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
OVERVIEW: Organized at Paducah, Ky., April 26, 1864. Attached to Paducah, Ky., District of Columbus, Ky., 16th Corps, Dept. of the Tennessee, to August, 1864. Paducah, Ky., District of Columbus, Ky., Dept. of the Ohio, to February, 1865, and Dept. of Kentucky to February, 1866.
SERVICE: Garrison duty at Paducah, Ky., till February, 1866. Operations against Forest in Kentucky March 16 to April 14, 1864. Action at Fort Anderson, Paducah, Ky., March 25, 1864. Expedition from Paducah, Ky., to Haddix Ferry July 26-27, 1864. Skirmish near Haddix Ferry August 27, 1864. Mustered out February 10, 1866.
Three men from Williamson County enlisted in the 8th US Colored Heavy Artillery.
Cpl. James Gordon was born about 1825 in Williamson County. He enlisted in Company A on September 14, 1864 in Paducah, Kentucky. He was a cabinetmaker. He served as a substitute for Thomas Readles, a white man from Graves Co, Kentucky. On January 27, 1865 he died at the USA Hospital for Colored Troops at Paducah, Kentucky of pneumonia. His remains are buried in the Mound City, Illinois National Cemetery. He left behind a widow Salina who applied for a widow's pension. His paver was sponsored by Emily Jenkins.
Pvt. Thompson Bell was born about 1839 in Williamson County. He enlisted in Company A on January 21, 1864 in Paducah, Kentucky. He was a shipmate. On April 15, 1865 he was admitted to a hospital in Pittburgh, PA. About a month later, on May 15, 1865, he was discharged there.
Pvt. Benjamin Cook was born about 1838 in Williamson County. He enlisted in Company A on January 28, 1864 in Paducah, Kentucky. He was a farmer. During his service he was on detached duty in Mayfield, Kentucky. On Feb. 10, 1866 he mustered out in Victoria, Texas.
Resistance to the Recruitment of the 8th USCHA
One report noted, “On the 23rd of May, 1864, about two hundred and fifty able-bodied and fine looking men assembled from Boyle County, Ky., at the office of the Deputy Provost Marshal, all thirsting for freedom. When this body of colored recruits started from Danville for Camp Nelson, some of the citizens and students of that educational and moral center assailed them with stones and the contents of revolvers.”
Another account stated that some black recruits had their ears cut off, were whipped, stripped, beaten, shot at, and even killed for attempting to become US Army soldiers.